Handel’s Composition Room – Furniture & Artwork

Portrait of Handel by Thomas Hudson

Title: George Frideric Handel
Artist: Thomas Hudson
Medium: Oil on canvas
Date: 18th century
Collection: The Royal Collection

The artist Thomas Hudson, became increasingly fashionable throughout his career with commissions to paint most of the key figures in Georgian London, including King George II. His artistic friends included William Hogarth, Francis Hayman and Louis-Francois Roubiliac, and his many pupils included Joshua Reynolds and Joseph Wright of Derby. This iconic portrait of an ageing Handel is impressively framed by ornate bulrushes. In the Bible, Moses is found as a baby abandoned amongst bulrushes. The use of the symbolic bulrush therefore, may reflect Handel’s involvement with the Foundling Hospital for abandoned children as a governor and a patron of crucial benefit concerts. Handel donated his oratorio, Messiah to the hospital and annual performances of it continued until 1775. The frame is 18th century with some 19th century additions and repairs.

Large painting of Handel

Title: Charles Jennens
Artist: Thomas Hudson
Medium: Oil on canvas
Date: c.1744
Collection: Handel House Trust

Charles Jennens was one of many important characters of Georgian society painted by the popular portrait artist, Thomas Hudson. Jennens was a wealthy landowner, patron of the arts and librettist. He adapted and wrote the words for some of Handel’s most famous oratorio works: Saul (1738-39); L’Allegro il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1740); Messiah (1741) and Belshazzar (1744-45). Jennens and Handel had a strong working relationship despite Jennens’ often condescending attitude, made clear in their surviving correspondence.

Title: Handel’s Bookcase
Maker: Unknown
Date: c. 1725-1745
Medium: Bookcase in two sections, mahogany with carcase of pine and some oak in the lower cupboard enclosed with panelled doors, the upper section with glazed doors between fluted pilasters surmounted by a broken pediment; brass fittings.
Collection: The Fitzwilliam Museum

This bookcase is said to be one owned by Handel whilst he lived here at 25 Brook Street. The first documented evidence of this can be found in the Illustrated London News, 1842, where it is said to have been bequeathed by Handel to his amanuensis, John Christopher Smith in 1759. After it passed through several owners during the 19th century, it was eventually gifted to the Fitzwilliam Museum by Francis Barrett Lennard, who had inherited it in 1870. The bookcase is the perfect size for the rooms of Handel’s home and may have provided vital storage for his ever-expanding collection of manuscript scores.

Made by Joseph Mahoon, 1749
On loan from a private collection

Joseph Mahoon had a workshop in Golden Square from the 1730s and was spinet maker to both King George II and King George III. Handel is thought to have owned one of his keyboards. There is a similar instrument in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is probably Mahoon’s last instrument.


Title: Perspective of the Magnificent Building erected in Green Park for the Royal Fire Works
Artist: Unknown
Medium: Engraving
Date: 1749
Collection: Handel House Trust

The first performance of Music for the Royal Fireworks, composed to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, was not a great success. A huge Palladian-style structure was set up in the park full of mechanical devices, light effects and, of course, fireworks. Most of the fireworks had to be abandoned when the pavilion containing them caught fire. A woman was hit by a firework which set her dress alight, a painter fell to his death as did a boy up a tree, and a man drowned in the pond. Servandoni, the firework maker who had planned the display, challenged the Royal Comptroller of the Ordinance and Fireworks to a duel and the whole show cost the staggering sum of £14,500. However, the music was well-received by those who heard it amongst the chaos.


Title: Autograph facsimile of the final page of Messiah (1741)
Collection: Handel House Trust

Handel wrote Messiah in 1741 in this room, in only 24 days. The words were adapted and written by Charles Jennens, whose portrait also hangs in this room. The words were taken from the Bible and tell of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jennens used a compilation of extracts from the King James Bible, and from the Psalms included in the Book of Common Prayer. Messiah is the first instance in the history of music of an attempt to view the mighty drama of human redemption from an artistic standpoint. In contrast with most of Handel’s oratorios, the singers in Messiah do not assume dramatic roles; there is no single narrative voice, and very little quoted speech is used.